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Juvenile development centres or torture cells?

  • Published at 02:09 pm August 19th, 2020
Jessore-juvenile-correctional-centre
File photo: Jessore juvenile correction centre Collected

On August 13, three inmates were killed and 15 injured in the Jessore JDC due to torture by its officials

Although offenders under the age of 18 are placed in the Juvenile Development Centres (JDC) for behavioural correction, no attempts are proactively made for their rehabilitation.

On August 13, three inmates were killed and 15 injured in the Jessore JDC due to torture by its officials.

Dhaka Tribune investigation found that juvenile centres do not make any effort to actually assist minors in reintegrating with the society by applying the existing models of correction.

Officials appointed to such centres have to generally be more sensitive and humane as they are dealing with minors, but they are mostly hostile. Most of them are not even oriented to deal with juvenile delinquency.

According to the guardians, their children are treated as criminals instead of being considered as juveniles with special needs. There are huge irregularities in serving food, medicines, and other essentials. And, the minors are often tortured for protesting the said irregularities.

Associate Professor Dr Kamal Choudhury of Clinical Psychology at the Dhaka University said: “It is not clear that any plan exists at juvenile centres for helping juveniles develop.”

“Officials do not follow any method for improving a child. Besides, they allow wrongdoings to continue which helps the inmates to become more aggressive,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

“The government should monitor the juvenile centres properly and revise its operation procedures to avoid any further incidents,” he added.

Objective of juvenile development centres

According to The Child Act, 2013, offenders under the age of 18 should be sent to the JDCs.

According to the Ministry of Social Welfare, the JDCs take the responsibility of caring, protecting, providing food, housing, clothing, medical care, education, vocational training, and correctional and human development, and counseling to the committed children.

These are done as per the provisions of The Child Act, 2013, the National Children Policy, and in accordance with the provisions of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

But what’s happening at the centres?

There are three JDCs in Bangladesh – National Juvenile Development Centre, Tongi, Gazipur (for 300 boys); National Juvenile Development Centre, Konabari, Gazipur (for 150 girls); and Juvenile Development Centre, Jessore (for 150 boys).

Most centres are overcrowded. In Gazipur JCD for boys, there were 941 inmates at a time, at one period. Most of the inmates had to shower and sleep together in congested rooms, leading to diseases. And medicines needed to be provided by their guardians as the infirmary did not have sufficient stock.

Despite centres being present for “correction” and not for “punishment,” the scenario at the centres is different as inmates are tortured on a daily basis. Those who raise their voice against irregularities are the ones mostly punished.

Brutal torture and irregularities are not new in the juvenile centres. In 2011, a child was brutally killed inside one centre.

In 2014, due to irregularities and low-grade food, some teenagers intentionally hurt themselves in protest at the Tongi JDC. At that time, a couple of inmates escaped from the centre to avoid torture. Even clashes broke out between officials and inmates at this centre.

Noor Islam, 15, committed suicide on June 30, 2019. Monira Begum, another juvenile, committed suicide inside the Gazipur JDC in 2013.

Suicide is not a new phenomenon in JDCs. According to the probe report, inadequate counselling and motivation was behind the suicides. But bullying and torture by officials and other inmates can also lead to suicides.

Like these, many incidents are taking place inside the JDCs almost every day. The centres are overpopulated, with shortage of manpower, low-grade food, no medical facility, administrative weakness, and budget deficit. These factors can easily lead to disgruntlement.

But after the triple murder case, guardians and rights activists have become more anxious. Many guardians are trying to contract with their children physically which the authorities are not permitting right now.

Kabir Sheikh came from Khulna to meet his son, Shohag, a juvenile at Jessore JDC. Kabir said Shohag has been living in JDC for more than two years.

“He [Shohag] informed me about his sufferings due to insufficient and low-grade food and medicine,” said Kabir.

Rejaul Karim came from Jhenaidah and Sheuli Begum from Gopalganj to visit their ward. They had also had the same allegations.

However, those who are influential among the inmates or loyal to the authority are given special privileges, including special dishes, standard place for living, and also drugs.

Insiders at Jessore JDC said the loyal inmates are used to torture defiant inmates.

On August 13, eight inmates reportedly helped the authority to torture the defiant inmates, they claimed.

Muhammd Ashraf Hossain, Superintendent of Police (SP), Jessore visited the juvenile centre after the incident. He said: “We have noticed many irregularities and evidence of wrongdoings.”

No correctional process applied

One of the goals of the JDCs is to give importance to the family and society in the correctional process. But there are no correctional procedures in existence in the JDCs so far.

According to the guidelines, JDCs will have rehabilitation activities to stabilize children for the society. But there are no practices of rehabilitation activities.

There are psycho-social counsellors, technical and physical instructors, but counselling sessions and physical training are not provided regularly.

JDCs must have a counselling team to motivate the children which are absent at all the centres.

JDCs must also have instructors for the traumatized and disabled children for developing mental health. But no instructors were appointed at any JDCs in the country for a long time. A doctor is most essential for these children, which unfortunately was not found at any JDCs.

Mostly, secondary level students are admitted at the centres. However, there is no opportunity for general education, which is a big limitation of the correction centres for rectifying behaviour.

Social Welfare Secretary Mohammad Jainul Bari said: “As the juvenile correction centres are operated following very old methods, there are some problems in health service, physical training, and education. It should be developed.

“I think these facilities are supposed to be there, at least on a limited scale; but if anything in these facilities do not exist, that is the management’s fault. That is why we started to visit juvenile centres to identify the problems and will take steps to develop the centres.”

Advocate Mostafa Humayun Kabir, coordinator of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, (BLAST) Jessore, who represented the plaintiffs in the triple murder case, said it was the manifestation of long-standing irregularities and mismanagement. The staff at the centre ultimately failed in their duty as they became brutal and aggressive.

Our Gazipur correspondent Raihanul Islam Akand also contributed to the article

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